Monday, July 10, 2006

Personality Plus

Just finished a book I found very helpful: Personality Plus by Florence Littauer. If you’ve ever asked the question, “How can that person be that way?” this book might help you answer it.

I’m a big fan of books, like this one, that explain somewhat the ins-and-outs of being human. It’s not what you’d call “absolute,” which in Christian Science is the total perfection that is divine Spirit. But most of us function in the “relative,” or that arena where the human mind can be persuaded to uplift itself toward something higher. In that arena, sometimes explanations provide a good jumping off point for further reasoning.

And this book explains a lot. Drawing on the four temperaments devised by Hippocrates around 400 BCE and laced with a decidedly Christian slant (Scripture is quoted at the end of every chapter and there’s a plug for Jesus at the end), Personality Plus seeks to clarify that we each have a unique stamp or filter through which we communicate and express. And, the more we can understand our own filter and the filter of others, the better we can get along in the here-and-now even as we strive for heaven.

It recalls to mind the two great commandments: love God, and love each other as ourselves. This is not just emotional love or blind adoration. I believe the love that’s required includes an intelligent understanding of the other, be it God or another person.

The more we know about God, the more we love Him, because His grandeur and perfection are revealed and we can’t help but be amazed. Likewise with other people. It’s not enough to love on a purely emotional level. Love must also include reason and understanding, since God is both Love and Mind and Truth.

To love enough to find out about another, to strive to understand them on all levels, brings us deeper into genuine affection and closer to loving them as ourselves. In a paraphrase on the commandment, in order to truly love we need to also understand God, and understand others as we understand ourselves.

I hesitate to list the temperaments, because the names Hippocrates came up with and Littauer uses seem somewhat negative, but for the sake of good blogging here they are:

  • Popular Sanguine—the extrovert, the talker, the optimist. These folks are the life of the party.
  • Perfect Melancholy—the introvert, the thinker, the pessimist. These folks analyze and create, tending to be artists or engineers.
  • Powerful Choleric—the extrovert, the doer, the optimist. These folks take charge and make things happen.
  • Peaceful Phlegmatic—the introvert, the watcher, the pessimist. These folks are at peace with the world and aren’t wildly motivated to change it.

Littauer maintains that it’s the blend of the temperaments that make us unique. There may be only four, but we’re each a unique blend of those four. Her book explains how to discern the traits of each in ourselves and each other, and how to relate to each other once we’ve discovered those traits.

I’d take it one step further and say that while we may exhibit some characteristics naturally, we can also learn to embody the best of them all. For example, I have a friend I really admire. She could make every person in a large group feel comfortable. If she and I were talking one-on-one and another person walked up, she’d instantly shift to include the person and mention something they and I had in common to get the conversation going in a three-way. I found this amazing. I was so impressed that I started emulating her in social situations, and soon it became second nature.

This indicates to me the possibility for an expanded sense of personality that sheds the limitations and adopts the admirable. As a Christian Scientist, I believe that we are each shedding the limitations of personality as we grow spiritually. The temperament blend, or personality, is not cast in stone because as we grow we can learn to express the best of all of them.

The first step might be noticing and appreciating how others express differently than we do. I can see already that understanding more what makes another tick makes me more patient and accommodating. I listen better and can express love in a way that is more meaningful to them. This to me is loving another as myself, because I appreciate it when I get this kind of understanding myself. And, when I see a trait I admire, I try to adopt it. In this way, a higher selfhood is revealed that is free from limitations.

Ultimately, there are no limitations. We each express all the goodness of the Divine. Personality Plus? Where we’re really headed is Individuality Infinite.

Your ideas and inspiration are welcome! Please comment below or Contact Laura.
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At 7/10/2006 05:04:00 PM, Blogger Kiran Paranjape said...

Absolutely right.
These profiles relate very closely to the profile we use in medical sciences ( I am a consultant orthopedic surgeon) to judge a person's mental & physical state.
Excellent post as well.
Another thing.
My blog on Sanskrit
has won Microsoft BhashaIndia Indic Blogger's Award as Best Blog in Sanskrit category. You can
see it here.
Many thanks for your encouragement.


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